What Disney’s Andi Mack Reveals about Asian Americans

(Image source)

 

Andi Mack, a television show that features three generations of Asian American women, premiered on the Disney Channel earlier this month.  The lead character “Andi” is a thirteen-year-old, mixed-race girl, who lives with her barely-middle-aged grandmother, and—spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the first episode—her mother, “Bex”, short for Rebecca, who looks and dresses, as if she could be in her early thirties.

The premiere of Andi Mack is noteworthy because Asian Americans in mainstream American entertainment are so rare. When they do appear, Asian Americans are usually “white-washed,” replaced by white actors or actors of mixed-ethnicity, most recently in ‘Doctor Strange,’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell.  In the few American films where there are Asian American protagonists, like “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “21 and Over,” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” Asian American women are veritably absent and silent; they exist to develop men’s characters.

 

It’s been more than twenty years since Margaret Cho critiqued the mainstream interpretation and portrayal of her stand-up comedy, in the first and short-lived Asian American family sitcom “All American Girl” on ABC. Similarly, Eddie Huang questioned the representation of his biography when “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered on ABC in 2015. Although the show has given Constance Wu opportunities to speak about the barriers Asian Americans face in Hollywood, the character she plays has been memorable because of the comedic “tiger mom” stereotypes she portrays.

 

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Andi Mack is Disney Channel’s attempt to rebrand itself, amidst Netflix competition with edgier material. Considering that Asian women are typecast as the “geisha,” the “dragon lady,” or the “tiger mom,” it was refreshing to see that including teenage pregnancy allowed Andi, Bex, and her grandmother to have complex thoughts, emotions, histories, and character development.  However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the tricky topic of teenage pregnancy was allowed particularly because of Andi and Bex’s white, multiracial heritage and through their relationships with white men.

The first episode begins with partial shots of a helmeted driver revving a motorized bike and clattering down a grassy hill to a street corner. The driver stops abruptly in front of two pre-teens, and whips off her helmet in a slow motion tumble of short brown hair and an immediately endearing and unforgettable crooked-tooth grin. Andi proudly shows off her new scooter to her two astonished friends, Buffy and Cyrus. Buffy, looks like a part white, mixed-race girl. She has light brown skin, and thick dark brown hair, with the texture of Rachel Dolezal. Cyrus has light skin and short, straight, dark brown hair but due to his pre-pubescent voice and worried reaction to Andi’s new scooter, he seems as gender ambiguous as Andi herself.

Scholar Rose Weitz writes about how women use their hair to create personal meaning and power in their lives. Weitz argues that women use their hair to resist popular ideals of feminine beauty and to distance themselves from cultural control over their bodies. A lot has been written about how men and women participate in gender policing of women’s bodies. Women cannot be too sexy or too manly. They cannot be too passive or too aggressive.  They should be authoritative but not bitchy. Moreover, women who are not white will be inherently unable to meet standards for white, feminine beauty.

Terri Minsky, the creator of Lizzie McGuire, cast Peyton Elizabeth Lee as protagonist Andi Mack in part because of her crooked smile, her short boyish hair, and her mixed-ethnicity; she looked distinct from the polished children cast in Hollywood. Minsky specifically told Disney she wanted to keep Andi’s hair short. In addition to Andi’s gender ambiguous name, Bex and Jonah Beck, the brown hair and blue-eyed boy Andi has a crush on, both call her “Andiman.” These moments of gender ambiguity make me wonder if Andi’s short hair and gender ambiguous name would have been allowed if she weren’t part white.

“Andi Mack” is not an example of an Asian name that would receive fewer call backs for job interviews. As names go, it’s about as Asian as “Lizzie McGuire.” Between Andi, her mother, and her grandmother, only her grandmother is not mixed-race. In the first episode, Andi compares the parenting style of her white grandfather to his wife, her strict and controlling Asian grandmother. When Andi finds out that Bex is her mother, and all three women become hysterical, her grandfather warmly and firmly reminds his frantic Asian wife, “we knew this day would come” and “they have to make the best of it.” The show’s easy portrayal of Andi’s understanding and agreeable white grandfather reminds me of a familiar strain of American history, where white men bring progressive, modern freedoms to backwards foreigners and especially to culturally oppressed non-white women.

When Andi finds out that her crush, Jonah, has a girlfriend, she has a fight with Bex and accuses her mother of “barely knowing her.” However, she starts to feel better after Jonah texts her saying that he misses her, even though he also barely knows her. When Andi’s mother tries to build up Andi’s confidence, Andi doesn’t listen but when Jonah tells her the same thing, Andi feels better about herself. We can write this off as young love but that’s the point, for Andi’s grandmother and for Andi, it’s the relationship with a reassuring and authoritative white man that resolves an emotionally unstable Asian or mixed-race woman, when she experiences low self-esteem or when she’s upset with other women in her family.  

A recent New York Times article about the potential for biracial people to heal racial divides suggests that by biologically mixing racial minorities with white people then somehow we will see that everyone is human and deserves equal rights and respect. This assumption hides that race, culture, and biology itself are socially constructed.

(Image from NYT)

But, there is lots of research to show that mixed-race societies still experience racism. Race was created and continues to be used as a way to stratify and control people, according to relations of domination and subordination. I was born and raised in Hawaii, which is wrongly assumed to be a “racial paradise” because a large proportion of the population consists of racial minorities and multiracial families.

Native Hawaiians experience lasting repercussions from colonial relations with U.S. imperialism as other indigenous peoples and Filipinos experience ethnic discrimination and over-representation in blue-collar, low-wage jobs, similar to Mexicans in the mainland U.S.

When I and some colleagues analyzed Filipino college students’ essays in Hawai‘i, we found that Filipino students distanced themselves from a Filipino identity because of families that taught them to prioritize and embrace American culture and because of ethnic and cultural discrimination they experienced in local culture. Language and culture courses helped Filipino students to find pride in their ethnic identity. However, top-down pedagogy left some students feeling alienated by essentializing discourses and boundary-making processes within the Filipino community, especially when the course content did not give students the opportunity to make sense of disparate and changing contexts that Filipino- Americans experience.

Instead of placing our hope in the biology and culture of interracial children of the future, social historians like Emma Teng and Natalia Molina argue for understanding how racial scripts classify and regulate groups of people in the past to demonstrate how we are all connected in the present. Molina reviews how legal cases and immigration policies around Mexican immigrants’ claims to U.S. citizenship have been evaluated by using previous racial and legal knowledge about Asian immigrants and African Americans. We see how quickly Asians lose their “model” status among racial minorities, when they are not submissive or obedient.

Teng reminds readers that people still think about biology, race, and culture in ways where only some hybrid identities are available. Remember how white people are ex-pats but anyone else is an immigrant? We think that Chinese people can assimilate into America, but Americans cannot become Chinese. These ideas about one-way cultural and racial processes affirms the idea of the modern against the old and the idea that people can consent to becoming American but they have to be biologically descended from Chinese people to be Chinese. These assumptions about race, culture, and biology obscure how they are all social constructions responsive to a specific historical and political context.  

I hope Andi Mack does help the Disney Channel rebrand itself by adding to a discussion about race in America and the privilege of white, mixed-race actors in Hollywood.  And, I hope Andi gets to continue to try to figure out who she is, not only in relation to her mother, her friends, and her middle-school crush, but also in relation to her privileged racial identity.

 

~ Kara Takasaki is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

White Bodies, Brown Bodies: The Presidential Election and After

Critics, pundits, bloggers, and just about everyone with a pulse and a social media account have taken to the public sphere to explain how Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular candidate ever to win the popular vote, lost the presidential election to Donald Trump, the most unpopular person ever to occupy the executive branch. Blame was evenly distributed but didn’t explain much. Although data indicated that the median income of the Trump voter was $72,000, it was the fault of the white working class. It was also the fault of anyone without a college education as well as rural whites. Rural whites make up a paltry 17% of the entire electorate. Rural whites haven’t supported a Democratic candidate since the south was a one party system and Franklin Roosevelt was president.

It was white women’s fault because more white women voted for Trump than Hillary. However, more white women voted for Mitt Romney over Barak Obama four years ago, just as more white women voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008, which means that white women simply voted like white women have in recent elections when the Democrat’s candidate won. It was the fault of blacks because blacks cast fewer ballots in 2016 than in the previous two elections. Republicans managed to suppress minority voters with racist Voter ID Laws and other implicit racist tactics, such as supplying limited voting machines in minority precincts. Only stalwart leftist magazines like the New Republic pointed out that Trump’s support was found in the upper and middle class white suburbs, comprised of the very people who thrived after the recession, and were not affected by the last few decades of deindustrialization. On the positive side, it may have been the first time no one blamed black women for an undesirable outcome.

I’m not here to add to the cacophony of the blame game of why Hillary lost. It’s not very productive. I am here to advocate for the importance of the body as an independent variable. Bodies have agency in the sense that bodies exert an affect over political outcomes. I’ve done so elsewhere. I’ve explained how exercising power over one’s body can produce changes in others and how the performativity of protests can fuse protesters with audiences.

I’ve explained how the tension between racially threatening and racially non-threatening bodies continue to hinder struggles for racial equality and how good white bodies are an integral part of the neoliberal project. Others have as well. Marion Klawiter explained how different fields of contention formed around the bodies of breast cancer survivors and breast cancer victims. The events leading up to the 2016 election and waves of post-election protests provide an opportunity think how a network of white bodies formed a racist white meta-public in relation a profaned meta-public comprised of brown bodies, sick bodies, trans bodies, migrant bodies, and the bodies of refugees.

The formation of a racist white meta-public illustrates the fluid nature of America’s racialized social structure. Systemic racism captures how the many interconnected elements of society are held together by a singular logic of white racial dominance. The theory of systemic racism does more than explain how racial oppression is at the core of American society. It also explains the causal effect racism has in creating and maintaining interlocking white institutions, and traces the historical patterns of elite white power, including how elites responds to various forms of black civic inclusion. White and brown bodies link elite whites with ordinary whites because they are part of a cultural framework known as the white racial frame. The white racial frame is an overarching “white world view” that “encompasses a broad and persisting set of racial stereotypes, prejudices, ideologies, images, interpretations and narratives, emotions, and reactions to language accents, as well as racialized inclinations to discriminate.” Racialized bodies anchor racist meanings into publics. The body is a form of communication at the visual and affective level that communicates political meanings, narratives, and myths, and in turn, connects audiences with distinct and otherwise unconnected publics. Audiences read publics as sympathetic, dangerous, or subversive; as sacred or profane; as good or bad. Rather than use history to break down or ‘deconstruct’ the origins of elite white power, I prefer the analytical framework of assemblages to explain how the white racial frame operates like a web of racist meanings that connect publics with economic policy, with geography, and with police brutality.

Publics and public spheres have to be created. They do not simply exist, waiting around for us to enter. Judith Butler’s recent entry into the debates around performativity and assemblages explains the relationship between bodies and the making of publics. As Butler explained, bodies still come together with the streets to form a public,

No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only between bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the between.

Publics are the means for marginalized groups to get their demands for equality into the broader political agenda. Publics make invisible groups and invisible bodies visible. In turn, Butler notes that the process of making a public “contests the distinction between public and private.” Butler, always the eternal optimist, imagines how an assemblage of a public can grant marginalized bodies a political voice. I’m not so optimistic. Marginalized groups have a limited control over how audiences respond to their claims. In the neoliberal era, the visibility of marginalized bodies triggers a white backlash — especially when racialized and other threatening bodies are visible.

The key site of political struggle in the contemporary public sphere has increasingly shifted from a discursive struggle to a corporeal one. The white and brown body is the visual cue that provides the initial reading of the public. In the current digital age of rapid news feeds made up of staged photo-ops, selfies, memes, gifs, scrolls, likes, and swipes — talk is downplayed. The importance of corporeal politics has increased in the digital age. The question is not just how embodied performances create publics, but rather, how elites and ordinary citizens bind and fail to bind heterogeneous publics together. The binding of heterogeneous publics illustrates the assemblage of a meta-public. Thus, meta-public is not simply comprised of a network of specific publics. It also captures an outcome, a dependent variable if you’ll have it, which is the current political climate.

Our current political climate is defined by the relationship between racism and neoliberalism. In Race and the Origins of Neoliberalism, I explained how the conditions for the neoliberal project were forged in the white response to the civil rights movement. A unified white response was made possible by what I dubbed the language of neoliberalism, or white-private/black-public. The language of neoliberalism refers to the assemblage of language around the signifiers of white, black, public, and private. Rather than divide the world into simple black and white categories, the form of racism that sustains neoliberalism is the result of combining the signifiers white-private and black-public. For example, elites weave together a thread of white-private-taxes to distort the perception of who ‘owns’ public resources, and a separate thread of white-private-security to define who is comforted by the expanded police and military presence. On the flip side, elites assemble a black-public-taxes sequence to define who benefits from public resources in order to rally support for privatizing our social welfare system. The language of neoliberalism expands in a non-linear fashion, existing at the center of a web of meanings connecting racism with deregulation, privatization, austerity, and taxation.

The current racist white meta-public grew out of the white response to real instances of racial integration. To give a brief historical example, let’s trace the white response to black inclusion since the civil rights movement. Political audiences and political parties have been segregated since the end of the civil rights movement. Lyndon Johnson was the last Democratic president to win the majority of the white vote. In the early 1970s Richard Nixon foresaw the existence of the Voting Rights Act as a political marker that would drive disaffected white voters to the Republican Party. The Republican Party was soon comprised of whites who responded to tax increases with tax revolts, integrated schools with white flight, black women receiving AFDC benefits with welfare queen stories, and growing black urban poverty with incarceration. The result was the nationalization of the neoliberal project through tax cuts, banking deregulation, private prisons, and cuts to AFDC.

Since the nationalization of the neoliberal project in 1979, each white response triggered an additional wave of neoliberal reforms. Republican’s rallied white voters against the 1993 Motor Voter Act via the myth of fraudulent black voter. Along with strategic gerrymandering, Republicans took control of congress in 1994, setting the stage for banking and pharmaceutical deregulations, and the privatization of social welfare. The Bush presidency began with a series of tax cuts for the wealthy. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 corresponded with a rise of white nationalism in relation to Arab bodies to justify war abroad. State’s continued to privatize prisons and public schools throughout the 2000s. It took the near collapse of America’s financial institutions and the mobilization of black voters to elect Barak Obama. Even then, Obama’s signature policy, the Affordable Health Care Act, was a system of privatized insurance. The federal government subsidizes private health care companies and private citizens to create the private health exchange market. The white response to Obama’s election was a combination of conspiracy theories about where he was born, the uber-neoliberal Tea Party that supports the complete privatization of public institutions, and states with a large minority population and a republican governor passed laws to limit minority votes, such as Voter ID laws.

The elite and middle class white response to the increased visibility of brown bodies since Obama’s second term led to the assemblage of the current meta-public. I define brown bodies as Arab bodies, black bodies, latino/a bodies, and Muslims bodies. In every case, the brown body serves as the focal point to influence the audience response to the public. Depending on the audience, a public of black bodies protesting police brutality can be a demand for reform or a riot. As the collection of local anti-racism and anti-police brutality groups assembled under the tag line #Blacklivesmatter, whites responded with their own tag line: #Bluelivesmatter. #Bluelivesmatter was not just a defense of the police. It was an affirmation of white supremacy, of racial discrimination, of legitimating the state violence against marginalized brown bodies.

The brown body provided a figurative focal point for middle class whites’ to link their own domestic anxieties with global and economic changes. The brown body is always nomadic — a stateless actor — that threatens white borders and steals white jobs. The visibility of Arab and Muslim bodies define the terrorist public that threatens whites’ sense of security. White Christian terrorists, white men and their guns and homemade bombs, are responsible for the overwhelming number of domestic terrorist acts. Yet, whites do not demand deporting other whites, they do not criminalize Christianity, and they do not place restrictions on easy gun access. The visibility of latino/a bodies connects legal and illegal immigration with global economic insecurity. Deindustrialization, driven by a combination of increased use of robots and automation in manufacturing, federal tax policies that supported relocation of firms from the northeast and great lakes region to right to work states in the south, the recent popularity disruptive business practices, and the privatization of social welfare since the 1980s, has eroded the value of real wages in the United States. It was not Mexican immigrants. But bodies carry mythologies that are more potent than data driven facts when influencing political ideology.

Brown bodies create different publics than trans bodies. Trans bodies subvert and undermine the gendered world order. The bathroom is reconstituted as a public as trans bodies come together to demand open access and equal use of a facility designed simply to relocate bodily wastes to a sewer treatment facility. The social conservative response to visibility of trans bodies was to assemble a new anti-gender equality public dominated by the bodies of heteronormative white men. The new anti-gender equality public linked with other publics: anti-black, anti-immigration, and anti-Arab. It was the affirmation of patriarchy via men’s ownership of women’s bodies. When pro-trans activists hold signs that read “It was never about bathrooms” I have a feeling the social conservatives concur.

Does the process of assembling a meta-public exist on the left? Clinton jammed the various racist, neo-nazi, sexist, and homophobic publics into a single alt-right public, or basket of deplorables. But the left has been unsuccessful in linking the alt-right with neoliberalism, which in my humble opinion must be done. This may indicate how the left’s inability to think of an alternative political and economic project to neoliberalism leaves them unable to create links with other publics. Or it may indicate that elite whites in the Democratic Party who’ve benefited from neoliberalism over the years aren’t as liberal and progressive as they think they are. It’s an empirical question.

This essay is modified from an earlier version published on the ASA Body & Embodiment Blog

Randolph Hohle, is Assistant Professor, Sociology, Fredonia, SUNY. His books include Black Citizenship and Authenticity in the Civil Rights Movement (Routledge, 2013) and Race and the Origins of Neoliberalism (Routledge, 2015). His upcoming book, Racism in the Age of Neoliberalism: A Meta History of Elite White Power in the United States, (Routledge, forthcoming). He can be reached at Randolph.Hohle@fredonia.edu; his website is Randolphohle.wordpress.com

Introducing: The Hashtag Syllabus Project

The Hashtag Syllabus Project launches today.  The “hashtag syllabus” has emerged as a digital, crowd-sourced form of knowledge production in response to the events in Charleston, Ferguson, and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

 

As historian Lisa A. Monroe has described them, these are “critical intellectual resources and promote collective study both within and outside of the academy during [a] moment of heightened racial tension.” By bringing these collections together here, my goal is to build on this work by making the knowledge within each one more accessible, discoverable, and open for further development and contribution from the activists, academics, and anyone who is simply interested in growing and learning more. 

 

 

The Hashtag Syllabus Project, hosted here at Racism Review, brings together many of the syllabus projects that have cropped up on the internet over the past couple of years. The name of the project harkens to its digital origins–open access syllabi created outside of traditional academe and shareable through many online platforms, especially social media platforms. In keeping with the spirit of collecting and sharing these syllabi, it’s my hope that this Hashtag Syllabus Project can be useful in a variety of ways–for academics and educators looking to reimagine their classroom curricula, for independent thinkers searching for radical epistemologies, and for the activists hoping to bridge the perennial gap between theory and practice–this page is for you.

 

Each syllabus is prefaced by a short introduction to contextualize the work–feel free to click a syllabus and (re)discover histories, knowledges, and (your)self. And, please do contribute your own syllabus project. All credit is attributed to the original authors, creators, and contributors of these syllabi projects.

 

~ Alyssa Lyons is a graduate student in sociology at The Graduate Center, CUNY

College Racial Climates: Speaking Out

A 2017 survey of 706 college presidents conducted by the Gallup organization for Inside Higher Education offers some surprising and even troubling findings. Despite the fact that racial incidents are still occurring on college campuses, most college presidents view race relations positively on their own campuses. Sixty-three percent rated race relations as good and 20 percent as excellent, with only one percent rating race relations as poor. The presidents’ responses were similar in the survey conducted last year. Yet both the 2016 and 2017 surveys reveal a persistent view among presidents that race relations are less positive on other campuses. In 2017 only 21 percent of presidents saw race relations on other campuses as positive, with 61 percent viewing race relations as fair. And 66 percent of the president disagreed or strongly disagreed that racial incidents on campus have increased since the election.

In addition, roughly only a third of the presidents reported that they have spoken out more than they typically do on political issues either during or since the election. Nonetheless, a majority of the presidents believe that the election revealed the growth of anti-intellectual sentiment and a growing divide between higher education and American society.

What accounts for the disconnection between the view from the top and day-to-day racial realities campuses? Take, for example, a report by the Anti-Defamation League released this month indicating that 107 incidents of white supremacist activity on college campuses have occurred during the current academic year. The report indicates the election of Donald Trump has emboldened white supremacists to step up activism on college campus and distribute racist and anti-Semitic flyers.

In Alvin Evans and my forthcoming book, Leading a Diversity Cultural Shift in Higher Education (Routledge), our study reveals that the implementation of diversity strategic plans is uneven at best. Such plans may persist as high-level statements without the resources, accountability, and delegation of authority needed to build inclusive campus cultures and ensure equity in processes and outcomes. The continuing isolation of minoritized students on predominantly white campuses has given rise to student demonstrations demanding specific improvements including diversity training, resources, curricular change, and a more inclusive climate. At the same time, the leadership of doctoral universities remains predominantly white and male with a noticeable lack of minority representation among top administration with the sole exception of the chief diversity officer.

It is unclear what objective ways of measuring campus climate led so many presidents to view race relations on their own campuses so positively. An extensive body of social science research demonstrates that in the post-Civil Rights era, subtle forms of “everyday” discrimination such as micro-inequities and micro-aggressions can shape behaviors and send devaluing messages to faculty, staff, and students from nondominant groups. For example, in Diverse Administrators in Peril, our survey of university administrators revealed that African American/black administrators believe to a greater degree that minority employees experience covert discrimination on a frequent basis compared to white participants.

The absence of protests or racial incidents is not a measure of whether institutional climate is inclusive. As we have shown in Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity, subtle barriers that impact the success of individuals from nondominant groups include stereotyping, application of differential standards, myths of incompetence, lack of support, and failure to empower and include in decision-making. Acts of process-based discrimination frequently do not rise to the level of institutional attention. Without concrete programs that address institutional micro-inequities and how these subtle forms of discrimination are manifested both in everyday experiences and in consequential institutional processes, the likelihood of organizational change will remain illusory.

The second major concern arising from the Inside Higher Ed survey is the indication that many college presidents have not spoken out about the divisive political climate driven by Donald Trump, an individual who, as Nicholas Kristoff points out, has been associated for more than four decades with racism and bigoted comments. Trump’s devaluing of the truth and unveiled attacks on minorities, Muslims, disabled persons, immigrants, and other marginalized groups in American society threatens to destroy our sense of decency and morality. This loss of morality strips the veil of pretense that has shrouded our vision of inclusion.

While many courageous college and university presidents have spoken out forcefully against Trump’s travel ban, this issue is only part of the persistent dilemma affecting race relations on campus. Much work still remains to be done to build inclusive campus climates. In his ground-breaking book, Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression, sociologist Joe Feagin indicates the necessity of moving beyond individual approaches to social justice to a group conception that addresses how racial injustice privileges one group over others within the fabric of our institutions.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us:

…the call to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

In this light, consider how Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber frames the problem of race relations on college campuses, leading him to call for self-reflective institutional reports, action-oriented programs, and solutions:

I have heard compelling testimony from students of color about the distress, pain, and frustration that is caused by a campus climate that they too often find unwelcoming or uncaring. …these problems are not unique to Princeton—on the contrary, similar stories are unfolding at many peer institutions—but that does not make them any more acceptable. Our students deserve better, and Princeton must do better. We must commit ourselves to make this University a place where students from all backgrounds feel respected and valued.

The Strengths of Being Multiracial

In a recent NYTimes piece, “What Biracial People Know,” Moises Velasquez-Manoff assembles a variety of compelling studies demonstrating that people of mixed heritage—-or even people who have similarly cultivated a “limber-mindset,” perhaps by living an extended period of time in another culture—have sharper mental acuity, and stronger problem-solving abilities, than those with a monocultural background. Even as young as 3 months old, these infants begin having greater facial recognition abilities than their counterparts. When presented with word-association and other creative problem-solving tasks, those reminded of their multiracial heritage performed better than those who were not similarly primed.

The research Velasquez-Manoff reviews echoes other studies done around monolingual vs. bilingual education that reveal that fluent bilingual students tend to perform better in school than either Spanish-only OR English-only students—challenging the advisability of the “straight-line assimilation” admonishments of old. But Velasquez-Manoff goes even further by looking at not just at individual-level outcomes, but societal outcomes—such as “economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process”—to argue that an entire community benefits when groups forge intimate connections beyond just their own tribe.

This piece comes across as much a celebration of diversity as a stark warning—warning to those who would like to turn the clock back to a time when many took solace in the comfort of the uniformly familiar. With facts like these—“multiracials make up an estimated 7 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re predicted to grow by 20 percent in 2050”—Velasquez-Manoff makes it evident there is no turning back this tide. In the shift from an Obama to Trump administration, he argues, the step back from multiracial to relatively monoracial is evident. And this “closing in” of ranks, as if fearful of an impending multiracial nation, emanates from a grave misperception that “out-groups gain at in-groups’ expense”—the great zero-sum game fallacy. In presenting this collection of studies, Velasquez-Manoff makes an excellent case for those who fear a society where whites are not the majority. He demonstrates that everyone in a society stands to benefit when its members are better able to perceive a situation and solve a problem from multiple vantage points—skills that are clearly heightened in multiculturally fluent individuals. He writes, “cities and countries that are more diverse are more prosperous than homogenous ones, and that often means higher wages for native born citizens.”

Velasquez-Manoff seems to implore—even if diversity scares you and you want nothing to do with it, just on the basis of this evidence that you’d be part of a stronger, richer, smarter society, wouldn’t you want to come on board for the ride?

Yet if it were that simple, of course it would have been done by now. I have two biracial children myself, and several older biracial stepchildren. Recently I asked one of my stepsons, now nearing college graduation, when did he first realize there was this thing called race separating us? Of course he spent nearly every day of his life going back and forth between families of different skin colors, but that never passed the radar. After all, when a rainbow of shades and tones is your daily reality, it’s hard to tell where this dividing line is that everyone’s talking about. I’ll never forget having to explain to my daughter about legal segregation—she was assigned the part of Dr. King in a kindergarten play, and all she was told was he gave a speech and had a dream, so I had a lot of filling in of details to do! I could see her rolling all of her different family members through her head, trying to figure out which ones back then would have been considered black, and the funny thing is she got 99% of them “wrong” by society’s standards—I mean, after all, who do you know who looks “black?”

It’s instructive to see the nonsense logic of “race” through a kid’s eyes. But my stepson told me it was not until he started to notice the differences in the churches he would attend with each part of the family—all the while seeming to be talking about the same God—but doing so very differently. Such a clear indicator that race has so little to do with skin color and so much to do with the way we humans have persisted in organizing ourselves. What once existed by law now continues de facto, because the scars are very deep, because we fear venturing out of comfort zones, because we continue to be excluded subtly rather than overtly—there are so many reasons. (See Gene Zubovich’s thoughtful essay for more on church segregation specifically.)

Our churches and our families are some of our most intimate spaces. We go there to take refuge from the onslaught of pain that the world “out there” throws us. Many of us turn to a spiritual community, or an intimate relationship, to feel safe, to be able to let down our guard, to finally no longer have to worry what everyone else thinks, or what someone might do to hurt us. Velasquez-Manoff cites a study of college roommates (by Sarah Gaither at Duke), matched across racial lines, and in this intimate space, yes -— it was not easy, at first. But after initial discomfort subsides or is worked through, the gains for both parties to the relationship are undeniable.

Velasquez-Manoff writes: “Diversity is hard. But that’s exactly why it’s so good for us,” and quoting Katherine Phillips of Columbia Business School, likens it to the pain of muscles in a workout—the hurt is indicative of something growing stronger.

Indeed, research I’ve done with Kathleen Korgen shows that even in close cross-racial friendships, friends tend to avoid the topic of race altogether, or else joke about it without taking racism seriously as a difference between them. Is it any wonder that research shows us many more young people are having cross-racial dating relationships now, but far fewer of those dating relationships actually move onto an interracial marriage —- hence sociologist Zhenchao Qian reminding us this is the “last taboo.”

It is one thing for two people to connect one-on-one, but quite another for them to forge a marriage which bonds their entire social/familial circles —- that will take some hard word, creating conflicts, some of which might never get fully worked out. Those who are already facing the daily pain of racism may not see themselves as able to voluntarily sign themselves up for yet another battle with this monster called race—-after all, so much of it they did not sign up for and is out of their control. And on the flip side, someone like President Donald Trump with a fragile ego and in unfamiliar territory may seek to surround himself with sameness in effort to assuage his own fears—-as might many of his supporters also.

As Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey argue in their forthcoming book Elite White Men Ruling, Trump operates from a white-virtuous-arrogance frame. Elite white men often have little to no intimate contact with nonwhites yet boldly attempt to speak with authority about them nonetheless. Diversity can be scary to the monoracials on both “sides,” albeit for quite different reasons.

Yet Velasquez-Manoff’s brilliantly crafted piece demonstrates with a mountain of evidence that facing those fears and struggles will produce a result that is so worth it! And he further shows us that even without interracial marriage or offspring of our own, we can take the plunge to “diversify” our own experiences to similar positive results. But no pain, no gain. So time to get to work to make this a stronger brighter world for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond. Because after all, there is no turning back this tide of multiracials coming up to show us the way!

Dr. Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Chair of Social Sciences at Saint Leo University, Virginia campus. In addition to teaching and writing books on race relations and racism, she leads community workshops on race, including the upcoming “Loving Across Differences.”

Black Lives Matter!: Dreaming for America to Practice What Jefferson Preached

PART I
I had a dream, no not the dream of Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I am the legacy of their dream. I dreamed that it was the late 1700s and I was talking to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay.

In this dream, I was the voice of conscience materialized as a wealthy, property owning White man, because in the days of Thomas Jefferson the elites did not listen to poor, non-property owning White men or to wealthy White women. At that time the voices and realities of Native Americans and Enslaved Africans told inconvenient truths that the founding fathers of the U.S. conveniently and blatantly ignored.

Thomas Jefferson exalted: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

I interrupted: “But Thomas you acquired over 600 slaves during your lifetime!”

James Madison and John Jay joined in—-you know, James Madison the slaveholding 4th president and John Jay, the slaveholding first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—-well Madison spoke as John Jay nodded in agreement: “It was I who fashioned the preamble to the constitution, ‘We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare…’”

Once again, I interrupted! Remember, in this dream I was cloaked in the privileged identity of a wealthy, property owning White man. I reminisced: “But James, you also believe that the primary goal of government is ‘to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.’ And by ‘minority’ you mean the 1% instead of People of Color like the original inhabitants of the Americas or Enslaved Blacks; poor Europeans are not part of that 1%.” I then turned to John Jay and asked: “And how did you put it John?: ‘The people who own the country ought to govern it.’

This conversation with Jefferson, Madison, and Jay continued.

PART II
Then in my dream, time shifted from the late 1700s to the mid-to-late 1800s. Suddenly I am sitting among a group of prominent liberals, progressives, and radicals. Folk like William Lloyd Garrison the renowned abolitionist and social justice advocate, and John Dewey, famous for his views about Education and Democracy. The vast majority of the people in the room are still wealthy White men. But this time, they have been joined by prominent White women like sociologist Jane Addams, known as the mother of social work. Black men like Frederick Douglas, a freed slave, abolitionist, orator, Statesman and defender of rights for Blacks, and Black Women like Sojourner Truth, a freed slave, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s rights as well as Anna Julia Cooper who was born to an enslaved mother but became an author, educator, and distinguished scholar. There were two other faces that stood out: Southern Cheyenne Peace negotiator Black Kettle sat along side Sojourner Truth. And Christal Quintasket was also present; she sat beside Anna Julia Cooper. Quintasket, an Okanogan Native woman also known by the pen name Mourning Dove, was the first Native American woman to publish a novel. Though progressives and liberals, the vast majority in this part of my dream were still wealthy White men but Newton Knight was also present. Newton Knight was the White Mississippi farmer who opposed Confederacy. Yes! I said “White” & “Mississippi” & “farmer” who opposed the Confederacy.

The wealthy, progressive White men, argued from the principled space of how things should be. John Dewey asserted: “Like Horace Mann, I believe public Schools to be Great Equalizers!”

Frederick Douglas countered: “But Blacks, and many Whites, still don’t have the right to an education!”

Jane Addams exclaimed: “And women don’t have the right to vote!”

As Sojourner Truth nodded in support, Anna Cooper explained: “Black women neither have the right to vote nor the right to an education! We support our Black brothers yet point out that we deal with the oppressions of racism and sexism!”

Newton Knight, William Garrison, and Jane Addams chimed in: “Speak sisters!

Knight added: And poor Whites have far more in common with Black men and women than with Wealthy whites!”

Black Kettle, speaking directly to the White progressives in the room, asserted: “You speak of equality as you covet lands that are ours. You are dazzled by ideals, while in the mid-to-late1800s, Native nations do not have the right to vote in their own country!”

Christal Quintasket augmented Black Kettle’s reprimand: “White men have too often been infatuated with turning Native Americans in to symbols and ideals instead treating us as equals who are real. Native nations will not have citizenship and the right to vote in their own country until 1924!

Forgetting that I was cloaked in the privilege of Whiteness & Maleness & Wealth, I emphasized: “And White liberals and progressives like you!, ahem [clears throat], I mean like us! must venture down from the loft of ideals and actively listen to and reverently collaborate with those whose causes we claim to support!”

Among the Whites in the room only Addams, Garrison, and Knight saw thru my cloak of White-privileged-maleness as they smiled, nodded, and winked directly at me in support of my statement.

PART III
Now, I am no longer dreaming. I have arrived to this panel discussion as a working-class origins Black woman, with the status of professor. When I say “Black Lives Matter!” I am saying that Thomas Jefferson never practiced what he preached. Like too many open-minded Whites today, I am saying that many White liberals and progressives from mid-1800s to mid-1900s were more infatuated with ideals than realities. I am suggesting that if Part II of my dream had been reality, most White liberals and progressives would have treated me with racist, sexist, and elitist disregard. I am saying that the achievements of the Women’s Movement in the early 1900s as well as the accomplishments of Black, Chicano, Asian, Native American, Poor Peoples’ social and civil rights movements from the 1960s and 70s are ongoing, uphill struggles.

In agreement with Jesse Jackson, I am saying: “The system has a class bias as well as a race bias…. [I]n the first five months [of 2015], 95 percent of police killings occurred in neighborhoods with median family incomes under $100,000. There were no killings in neighborhoods with median family incomes of $200,000 or above.” I am saying that according to UN Trends and Statistics, women, and especially women of color, are the most vulnerable group worldwide, I am saying that the highest rates of police killings are for Native, Black, and Latino Americans.

In highlighting the intersections of race and class, I am reminding you that if Dylan Roof—the mass murderer and white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina—had been Steve Bannon, if he had been White and wealthy, his lawyers would have likely used some kind of “Affluenza” defense, like the one used to exonerate Ethan Couch after he killed four people while driving DUI. Or despite his heinous crime, Roof might have received a relatively light sentence, as was the case with Brock Turner, the White and wealthy rapist who was found guilty of three felonies yet only sentenced to six months. On the other hand, although Roof lacked class privilege, he still experienced race privilege as police bought him a hamburger because he seemed hungry and placed Roof in a bullet-proof-vest just in case someone tried to attack him. Though the light sentences of Couch and Turner were extremely inadequate, I am saying that, “We, All The People!” should be treated with the same complex human dignity afforded those who are White AND Wealthy. I agree with sociologist Z.W. Rochefort who argues:

The question is not how privilege can be eliminated but how it can be democratized.

So when I say “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”, I ask you not to insult the struggles of Black Americans and other marginalized groups with the shallow universalism of “ALL Lives Matter!”. But I invite you to join in solidarity and bolster the common struggles of “We the People” who have been left out of the American Dream. When I call “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”, I invite you to transcend oppositional posturing, and join in solidarity by responding: “Black Lives Matter!”, “Native and Latino Lives Matter!”, “Poor White Lives Matter!”, “Poor Women’s and Children’s Lives Matter!” I especially ask White liberals and progressives to move beyond ideals and take a close and complex look at historical and empirical realities. As perceptively observed by Remi Salisbury:

To engage meaningfully in the kind of feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist work needed to bring about change is a task infinitely more difficult [than criticizing Donald Trump]. This kind of engagement would reveal Trump to be more symptom than cause. It would encourage us to look at the wider factors that would give rise to such a demagogic figure. To abhor one man may be comforting, but, unless it is supplemented by a critique of structural white supremacy, it will always miss the mark.

So, when I say “Black Lives Matter!” if you still feel the need to counter with “ALL Lives Matter!” then I answer you by going back to my dream. I indicated that the conversation with Jefferson, Madison, and Jay continued. Well, at least in Part I of my dream, Thomas Jefferson turned to James Madison and John Jay and said

Gentlemen, if there is a hell, if there are levels of purgatory, then we are headed to the sections designated for overconfident braggarts and self-righteous hypocrites!

In closing, I end my speech by revising German anti-Nazi Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

First the Trump Administration came for the First Nations of America, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Native American from the First Nations.
Then they came for the Women, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Woman. (Or I was a woman who thought my abusive president could change).
Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an African American.
Then they came for the Mexicans, other Latinos, and Asians, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican in particular, Latino in general, or Asian.
Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for those with disabilities, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not disabled.
Then they came for persons who were LGBTQ, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not Queer.
Then they came for the Immigrants and Refugees, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a recent Immigrant or Refugee.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

L. Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This presentation was one of five short speeches given for the panel discussion “We The People: A Roundtable on Black Lives and American Politics,” held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on February 9, 2017. (Given time limitations, the speech given at the panel discussion was a seven-minute-excerpt of this longer version.)

Du Bois and White Americanism

Throughout his life, Du Bois writes, and educates, studies, liberates, and resists the systemic racism in America until his indictment as a communist in 1951 and subsequent deportation (his white co-conspirators were allowed to remain in the U.S.) So he continues the fight abroad until his death in Ghana 1963 in the midst of the U.S. civil rights movement.  In The Souls of Black Folk,  he writes:

“The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.“ – W.E.B. Du Bois

 

Life as one man, with a double consciousness, American and African, is no small task. Given the right set of consequences and an incredible support group, perhaps it is doable. Having access to housing, healthy food, good educators, healthcare, job, mental health professionals, community, equal pay, and time. If you are wealthy, male, and white that is all a given (even after successive failures.) A person of color has to look for opportunities and open the doors to sneak in squeaky clean. Those POC’s are your Talented Tenth. The other ninety percent of blacks scrounge while what culture is left, if it isn’t based in religion or food, is easily appropriated and it’s origins lost and then regurgitated in a mediated manner. Look at the Arts, Architecture, Technology, Science, Math, Entertainment of the past 30 years alone. Lip service holidays, monuments, and street names mean nothing. The capitalist, white way of life has been Africanized, Asianized, Latinized, oversized and continues to attempt to crush alternative culture, community, history and humanity into dust.

Just ask the people still at Standing Rock or better yet ask any person of color, and be willing to listen without judgement. Perhaps that questioning could lead to a conversation. Also question yourself. I do on the daily.

The hard won battles of the civil rights movement led to the desegregation of schools and public places, voting rights, and laws prohibiting discrimination in education, workplace, and the housing market. Every day from then until now the fight for these rights laid out by law must be fought for over and over again. Today we have over 2 million people of color incarcerated and yes we have President Barack Obama, and celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce, Kanye… We’ve got black people at the top of capitalism’s high spires and still millions more people of color and people at the bottom wallowing, scrambling, screaming, and working their fingers to the bone, for what? So that the current President of the United States can help make America great again, by casting out refugees and immigrants, defunding public education, the arts, destroying the environment and putting what little money is leftover from the people’s federal tax dollars into buffering the military, privatizing prisons, and spreading corporate globalisation?

What does America have to teach the world? Perhaps innovation, cohabitation, acceptance, resilience, bravery, and full transparency if we can get there without imploding first. As for the concept of double consciousness, if Du Bois were alive I would be bold enough to ask is there a 3rd, 4th, or 5th consciousness. Are these splits in consciousness being acknowledged and exploited? I ask this because as the categories of identity increase it sometimes feels like having to work through several layers of veils to see that the one white way isn’t the only way.

 

~This is a part of a series following a W.E.B Du Bois reading group in Philadelphia, moderated by Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Following each meeting of the group, we’ll post a reflection by one of the members. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to join the group for the next session,  go to the Facebook group  and join us for the next meeting.   

This reflection on the Du Bois reading group was written by Anita Holland.  Anita Holland is a multiracial artist and human being residing in what is currently Philadelphia,  PA. Today’s platitude of choice: “Let me answer your question with a question.” You can follow her on Twitter at: @AMSunshin3.

Introduction to Souls: W.E.B Du Bois Reading Group

 

(Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk)

As a Jewish child growing up in Israel, I was obsessed with the holocaust. Many nights I couldn’t sleep, afraid of nightmares. I vividly remember the repeating thought in my head: if I was born just a few decades ago, I would have been considered a problem. A problem so threatening that it must be killed or at least controlled.  As I grew up, I learned of Apartheid South Africa, of the conditions of those living in occupied Palestine, and about the ongoing segregation and oppression of people of color in the United States. I realized that although I could have potentially been a problem, many people are living their entire live as a problem. Of course as a kid lying awake at night in Tel Aviv I didn’t know to articulate the issue in these exact words. It was only when I finished the first paragraph of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk when the words “who does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word” made my fears connect to others’ struggles. It is this kind of connections that make political education, like this reading group about Du Bois so important to resistance today.

A few of us are gathering in Philadelphia to read Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk with Dr. Anthony Montiero. I think It is especially important that we read the revolutionary words of Du Bois to be able to criticize, and resist, and find our place in this moment in the movement. In all that, it is also important to remember that our fight is worth it, because “America has too much to teach the world” and perhaps, at this time, what we America needs to teach is resistance by example.

 

 

(Du Bois Reading Group in action)

 

There are few pieces of writing so packed with ideas and concepts as are the first few pages of The Souls of Black Folk , W.E.B Du Bois’ communist manifesto, published in 1903.

The first phrase of Souls is revolutionary, “between me and the other world.” To this day the default in any racial binary is white. The non-white is the other, the minority, the different. However, Du Bois turns the paradigm on its head. Du Bois’ world, the black world, is the true world and whites live in another world.  Whites live in a world where Du Bois is a problem. He learns by the way whites look at him that he is a problem. He sees their racial gaze, but Du Bois finds time for irony, “being a problem is a strange experience.” From the concept of the problem, Du Bois moves to the concept that Dr. Anthony Monteiro calls “the most profound concept of race in the world,” the concept of the Veil.  There is a veil between Du Bois and the other world. Du Bois sees the world through the Veil, which like the veil of a bride on their wedding day, means that he sees through the Veil better than the person on the outside looking in at him. This is a strong statement for policymakers, social scientists, ethnographers, and any observer of Du Bois saying, “I see you. I see you better than you think I see you. I also see my fellow folk behind the Veil. It is me, not you, who should study my social condition, and perhaps yours.” After the Veil, Du Bois gets to the concept of Double Consciousness. He sees racism, he sees race, he sees blackness for its beauty, however, he also sees and hears the stereotypes. This “two-ness” makes Du Bois measure himself by the stereotypes of the white world. In another revolutionary statement, Du Bois wishes to be “both a Negro and an American.” Both a Black man and a Human, as Monteiro complements. All of this is happening before Du Bois reaches page three.

In an autobiography published in 1940, Du Bois calls the writing of Souls “a cry in the middle of the night.” Indeed, the 35-year-old scholar had reasons to be frustrated.

Du Bois was the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard. To achieve this feat he needed to complete not one but two  bachelor’s degrees and almost two doctorates degrees just to be counted among those worthy of a Harvard graduate education. Du Bois by 1903 would already have two publications: his doctoral thesis in history from Harvard which was published in 1896 and The Philadelphia Negro, the first empirical sociology study in the United States, published in 1899. Because of discrimination, Du Bois couldn’t teach in the institutions that he was affiliated with, such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, although he was more qualified than many of the faculty.  He went to teach at Wilberforce, an historically black college (for more on Du Bois’ career, see Alton Morris’ A Scholar Denied). 

The period of time when Du Bois was beginning his teaching career overlapped with a period of time some have called a “nadir of American race relations.”  The emancipation of enslaved people in 1863 and the end of the civil war in 1865 kindled hope and movement towards reconstruction. After only three years these hard fought bureaus and committees were disbanded and replaced with the 13th amendment, Jim Crow laws, and the ruling in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, establishing black Americans as legally inferior to blacks. This may seem bleak; yet, at the beginning of that ‘cry into the night’ for Du Bois who (at this time) maintains hope that “America has too much to teach the world.”

 

 

~This is a part of a six-post series following a W.E.B Du Bois reading group in Philadelphia, moderated by Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Following each meeting of the group, we’ll post a reflection by one of the members. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to join the group for the next session,  go to the Facebook group  and join us for the next meeting.  

This reflection was written by Abraham Gutman.  Abraham is originally from Tel Aviv and currently living in Philadelphia. He holds an MA in economics from Hunter College. He is an aspiring sociologist interested in race, policing, housing, and all types of football. You can contact him on Twitter @abgutman.

Protesting Trump’s Discriminatory Actions: Resurgence of College Student Activism

We can all take heart from the temporary restraining order of Judge James L. Robart of the Western District of Washington that stops federal officials from enforcing a travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. This ban was enacted as an Executive Order by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, setting off a widening constitutional and political crisis as well as global demonstrations. Responding to Judge Robert’s temporary restraining order, Washington State Attorney Bob Ferguson declared: “Not even the president can violate our Constitution….”

Trump’s actions have reverberated around the world in a daily assault of injustices that threaten the very fiber of our democracy and the intellectual freedom that is the backbone of higher education. The speed and crescendo of this assault is unparalleled, designed intentionally to create chaos, and pursued relentlessly despite mass demonstrations and active resistance. And in the face of this assault, David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, warns of the Faustian bargain that Republicans face in trying to get things done and acquiescing to Trump’s reckless maneuvers. As he writes:

The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.

What does all this mean for higher education? To confront the divisive Trump effect on college campuses, Yolanda Moses offers a number of solutions for how college professors, students, and administrators can sustain the values of diversity and inclusion:

1) equip students with historical context so that they can understand how our nation could be so politically divided; 2) support undocumented students; 3) protect protesters on both sides; 4) prevent sexual assault; and 4) reinforce global learning.

In implementing these recommendations, diversity and inclusion must take a front seat. Consider how W.E.B. DuBois described the purpose of higher education more than a century ago:

The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.

DuBois sees the special responsibility of higher education not simply as custodians of knowledge, but as the instrument or channel that connects the creation of knowledge with social change.

There are recent heroic exemplars for how this activist connection between higher education and society has been made. Recall, for example, how Jonathan Butler at the University of Missouri at Columbia (UM), a graduate student, risked his life on a hunger strike to protest inequality and a lack of responsiveness by system administration led by Tim Wolfe, an ex-software executive, in the wake of the killing of an unarmed black person, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer.

Butler, an African American master’s degree student began a hunger strike on November 2, 2015 and signed a “Do not resuscitate” order. In a letter to the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators, Butler wrote:

I will not consume any food or nutritional sustenance at the expense of my health until either Tim Wolfe is removed from office or my internal organs fail and my life is lost.

Jonathan Butler’s action was one of the flash points along with the threat of a boycott by the UM football team that led to Wolfe’s resignation along with the resignation of UM’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, that occurred the same day. The pressures exerted by student activism have led to significant transformation at both the system and university levels. Leadership changes include the hiring of the first Asian American system president, Mun Choi, the former provost at the University of Connecticut, and creation of a system chief diversity officer position now held by Kevin McDonald. Ongoing initiatives include the pioneering work of the Faculty Council on Race Relations.

The recent peaceful student protest on the UC Berkeley campus against the scheduled speech of Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart News editor, was unfortunately undermined by violence by a few masked protesters who set fires and smashed windows. Reacting immediately and precipitously, Donald Trump then sent out a tweet threatening the withdrawal of federal funds from the university. Yet according to Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, since the university itself had tried to meet its obligations, “the loss of federal funds…would be deeply inappropriate and most likely unlawful.”

Looking forward, peaceful, nonviolent protests and student activism are powerful countervailing forces in support of inclusion that connect real life and the knowledge of life that Du Bois saw as the critical function of higher education. In a forceful response to the travel ban, a coalition of 598 college and university presidents has signed a letter sent through the American Council on Education expressed their concerns to Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly. In the words of the letter,

America is the greatest magnet for talented people around the world and it must remain so.

The actions of courageous educators and students alike will help us sustain the values of inclusion, liberty and justice on college campuses in these troubled times.

Women Lead the Resistance to Trump

(Inauguration Protest Posters by Shepard Fairey, from here)

When my daughter and I joined the Women’s March on Washington, DC, we joined with other women who are leading the resistance to the Trump regime. Reported to be the largest ever one-day march in the US, we were joined by an estimated two million people at sister marches around the world.

Being at the Women’s March on Washington

Being at the Women’s March was a chance to be part of history and to be inspired. Many people at the march were fired up about the fact that Trump is morally unfit for office. Holding signs like: “This pussy grabs back” and chants like our favorite: “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” the women at the march proclaimed their resistance.

Actor Ashley Judd’s impassioned delivery of a poem written by fellow Tennesseean Nina Donovan (19 years old) at the pre-march rally aimed to take back the “nasty woman” insult, insisting vaginas “ain’t for grabbin’” and instead are for birthing the next generation of multicultural, multifaceted diverse human beings. The poem spoke of female empowerment, attacked transphobia, conversion therapy (aimed at LGBTQIA folks), and the abysmal 63 and 54 cents that Black and Hispanic women make compared to a “white man’s privileged daughter.” Right away it was evident to me on the ground that this march was going to be a progressive coalition and the beginning of a much broader resistance than just the outcome of the election,

While marching, I was struck again and again by the juxtaposition of what a sign said and who was carrying it.  A “Trust Women” sign for reproductive freedom, carried by a man; a “Black Lives Matter” sign, carried by a white woman; “Respect Women of Color” NOW sign, carried by a white man; “The Future is Brown and Female,” also carried by a man; and “Channeling my Inner Shirley Chisholm,” carried by a white woman. Chisholm ran for the Democratic party nomination for US President in 1972, and although she did not win it, she adopted the slogan “unbought and unbossed”—was a democratic role model that men and women of all backgrounds, races, religions, and sexual orientations.

(The author and her daughter at The Women’s March)

When the crowd was finally permitted to march forward, I caught glimpse of a vast sea of signs and banners that was inspiring for both me and gave me hope for my daughter’s future.

Intersectionality in Action

For me, The Women’s March was also an opportunity to see intersectionality in action. Several of the visionary organizers of the March for Women –including Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour  – spoke eloquently about harnessing the passion of the people who were there.  Rather than focus on calling out the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, or the white women who hadn’t marched before, the organizers chose to “call people in” to the movement.

They called in the people who got on a bus, maybe for the first time and who had maybe never been politically active before, and asked them to stay awake now, to keep paying attention, and to keep speaking up about the issues that others have been fighting for for decades now, like police brutality and Islamophobia.

Linda Sarsour, in particular, who identifies as “unapologetically Muslim American, Palestinian American, and from Brooklyn, New York” passionately spoke that she was glad that people became recently incensed by Trump’s call for a “Muslim registry”—and to these new allies, she affirmed, “I welcome you”—but also made clear, “the very things you have been outraged by, this has been our reality for the past 15 years.

Tamika Mallory reminded the crowd that this was not a concert or a party, and like Sarsour, welcomed new allies in this progressive movement by addressing those who “for the first time felt the pain that my people have felt since they were brought here with chains shackled on our legs, welcome to my world… This country has been hostile to its people for some time. For some of you, it is new. For some of us, it is not so new.”

(Linda Sarsour, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

While some in the mainstream media tended to focus more on the speeches of white celebrities such as Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Ashley Judd, Madonna, and Scarlett Johansson, the reality on the ground at the march was that women of color played a prominent role. And, they always used their platform to highlight intersectionality.  Actor Janelle Monae led the crowd in chants of “Say Her Name,” a call created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to remind us of the black women killed at the hands of police, like Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Shelly Frey, Korryn Gaines, Natasha McKenna, Yvette Smith and so many others. Several of the mothers of black men (and boys) killed at the hands of police, such as Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, spoke to shout their babies’ names aloud as well.

(Janelle Monae, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

One of the most powerful moments for me at the march happened when the crowd began to chant in unison: “Sophie Cruz.”  Most people there had probably never heard before of Sophie Cruz, but once this brave and powerful 6-year old girl gave an empowering speech, first in English, and then repeated in Spanish, urging the crowd to work to “keep families together,” urging children to “not be afraid,” they would likely never forget her.  Echoing another young heroine, Cruz told the crowd she still believed that most people have “hearts full of love” so “let’s keep together and fight for the rights!”

Standing for five hours of speeches in a packed crowd where one could barely move was uncomfortable at times, but well worth it for moments of inspiration like this one. Reflecting on these moments of inspiration gives me strength as the news from the Trump regimes unfolds with more terrible developments each day.

Women Continue to Lead the Resistance

(Activists in Portland, Oregon, protest President Trump’s ban. Clinton Steeds/Reuters, from here)

As the first few days of Trump’s presidency unfold with an onslaught of destructive Executive Orders, including the so-called “Muslim Ban,” it it women who have been on the front lines of the protests against these atrocities. Michael Moore suggested that the Women’s March never ended.

Clearly, it’s working. One Republican congressman complained that since the march, women have been “in my grill,” asking about when his next town hall meeting would be, and “not to give positive input.”  On the Democratic side, two women have been at the forefront of putting pressure on Sen. Schumer, staging protests outside his home that have helped him “find his spine” to stand up to the Trump regime. Rebecca Traister has a run down here of all the women opposing the regime, which has set off a flurry of speculation that opposition from women is Trump’s Nightmare.

Sen. Kamala Harris’s speech at the march connected “women’s issues,” to human rights issues, to the economy, to immigration. Native Americans formed a human chain as they drummed and marched, chanting what the crowds marching near them could not help but join in as it became contagious—“women are sacred” and “water is life.” These are not just Native values, these are human values—or should be.

(Photo credit: Eileen O’Brien. Shepard Fairey poster)

Making these connections between disparate issues has never been more urgent.  it’s important to deepen our understanding of “women’s issues,” particularly as whites become a demographic minority in the US. Census Data is quite clear that by 2020, a majority of the children in this country will be nonwhite, ushering in a majority multicultural future for the nation. As Joe’s insightful post notes,Trump’s cabinet is clearly assembled to preserve elite white male advantage. If women are to resist this power structure, then we will need to fully embrace the intersectionality  I saw on full display at the Women’s March.

(Rep. Maxine Waters, speaking at The Women’s March, from here)

As crowds chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and “this is what America looks like,” Rep. Maxine Waters said that Trump’s words, actions, and nominees tells us that “you don’t respect us as women” and they are “dog whistles to white supremacists.” With white supremacists like Bannon and Miller actively involved in drafting Executive Orders for Trump’s signature, this not hyperbole.

As Alicia Garza observed, the march is a part of a larger effort at movement building:

“We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you.”

When I attended The Women’s March, I’m grateful I got to be a part of this.

 

~ Eileen O’Brien is Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at St.Leo University. She is the author of several books, including Whites Confront Racism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).